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Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

On Sept. 24, the Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women will celebrate a quarter-century of advocacy and service toward the advancement of women of color. “It is indeed an honor and privilege to serve in a position of leadership at such an important time in the history of an organization dedicated to service like this one,” said Chapter President Landa McLaurin. “This is one of those opportunities that I have wanted to have for a long time and working with the Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter has been significant to me.”

McLaurin exemplifies the membership of the Baltimore-based nonprofit – a professional educator, who has worked to advance and empower the children, especially girls, under her care. The work she is doing at the National Coalition, McLaurin said, is an extension of what she has done in her career as a teacher and principal.

It was the same for the 24 women, led by the visionary Edna Beach, who first met during the winter of 1970 in New York City to stake out a future in the aftermath of the tumultuous 1960s. According to the national organization’s history, throughout that decade, the women continued to meet and to seek solutions to the issues affecting their families, their communities and themselves.

By 1981, the New York-based group had 500 members, and the model and mission they created began to replicate in other areas across the country.  Today, NCBW comprises thousands of women of African descent spread across 60 chapters in 25 states and the District of Columbia, all seeking to propel the cause of gender and racial parity and to advocate for health awareness, leadership development, economic development and education among Black women.

“Our basic charge is to promote equity and economic advancement and to drive the need for change among Black women,” said Mary J. Demory, historian of the Baltimore Chapter.

On Sept. 24, 1989, the Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter was formed with specific goals for women of color in the area. “We wanted to impact the structure of opportunities for women both in corporate world, in higher education and the secular world,” said Anne Emery, a longtime educator and one of the chapter’s founders.

For example, in the corporate world, African-American women continue to experience inequity in salary and upward mobility, Emery said. “Inequity is still viable that’s why organizations like ours are still viable,” Emery said. “There are still many barriers and issues facing Black women.”

With those goals in mind, the chapter has developed networks and partnerships that seek to empower African-American womento attain career advancement and leadership opportunities and to address the socioeconomic and political barriers facing them.

And so, for example, when the chapter realized there weren’t a lot of female judges in the area, they took up that cause. Also, in line with the national organization, the Baltimore group has been working to encourage and prepare more Black women to run for political office.

Another key component of the chapter’s mission and work are mentorship programs meant to “offer meaningful guidance to young Black women,” Demory said.

For years, the organization’s members have worked to prepare high school girls for higher education – one of their mentees was even successful in winning the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates scholarship; and they partnered with another nonprofit, New Directions for Women, to mentor women whose lives had fallen off track.

The latest thrust of the local chapter, however, is to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers among girls and women of African descent.

The Obama administration had identified STEM education as vital to the future prosperity and global standing of the United States. However, as things stand now, Emery said, Black girls and women will miss out on those opportunities for advancement. “STEM fields are not controlled by women; they are male-dominated,” Emery said. “We have to educate our girls so that they are comfortable and prepared for the jobs that will be created in STEM fields.”

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter’s 25th Annual Torchbearer Awards Breakfast reflects its prioritization of STEM education and careers. Under the theme, “Embracing the Spirit and Power of Women to Advance Change,” the organization will recognize STEM role models: Dr. Shirley Malcolm, head of education and human resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Dr. Charlene Dukes, the eighth, and first female, president of Prince George’s Community College (PGCC), who just started a new STEM track at the school; Dr. Tuajuanda Jordon, a distinguished scientist and recently appointed president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and Stephanie Cole-Hill, a vice president at Lockheed Martin and the 2014 Black Engineer of the Year.

“We decided to identify African-American women who have demonstrated success in the STEM careers so that young girls could see them as role models and see what the future can hold for them,” McLaurin said.

The AFRO will receive the group’s presidential award during the 25th Annual Torchbearer Awards Breakfast, held 8:30 a.m. Sept. 27 in the Calvin and Tina Tyler Ballroom, at Morgan State University’s Student Center.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO